Table of Contents

International Handbook of Globalization and World Cities

International Handbook of Globalization and World Cities

Elgar original reference

Edited by Ben Derudder, Michael Hoyler, Peter J. Taylor and Frank Witlox

This Handbook offers an unrivalled overview of current research into how globalization is affecting the external relations and internal structures of major cities in the world.

Chapter 49: ‘The World City Concept Travels East’: On Excessive Imagination and Limited Urban Sustainability in UAE World Cities

David Bassens

Subjects: geography, cities, urban and regional studies, cities, regional studies, urban studies


David Bassens This chapter discusses the fast-growing United Arab Emirates (UAE) cities Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which, although emblematic of urban-centred growth, have attracted surprisingly little attention in world cities literature. Although the 2009 debt crisis in Dubai has raised questions about urban sustainability in the wider Gulf region, both cities have been prospering as nodes of global flows of money, people and goods. Perhaps most indicative of this is the fast and massive population growth both cities have experienced in recent decades. In Dubai, the population rose from ca. 40 000 in the 1960s to more than 1.6 million in 2008 (, accessed 10 February 2010), while Abu Dhabi’s urban population reached ca. 800 000 in early 2010 (, accessed 10 February 2010), compared with a mere 25 000 in the 1960s. A lot of the initial population growth resulted from the discovery of oil in the early part of this period. As a consequence, earlier forms of subsistence such as pearl diving, smuggling and manual production lost their importance, while the influx of oil industry workers and windfall oil money transformed these formerly small settlements into a specific urban form which Khalaf (2006) identifies as ‘oil cities’. More recently, however, in a move to diversify their economies away from oil dependency, the ruling families (Abu Dhabi’s al-Nahyan and Dubai’s al-Makhtoum) have endorsed the development of cities within their realms as centres of business, trade and advanced servicing – quite successfully, so it appears, as even during the global financial...

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